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Big Bend area tomato grower to apply for medical marijuana license

The entrance of Village Farms International’s tomato growing facility near Marfa in April 2023.
Carlos Morales
/
Marfa Public Radio
The entrance of Village Farms International’s tomato growing facility near Marfa in April 2023.

A company that grows tomatoes just north of Marfa is looking to grow marijuana at one of its local greenhouses for the first time.

Village Farms International is already a major player in the Canadian cannabis industry and has talked before of its plans to pivot from tomatoes to cannabis products at its West Texas facilities.

“You can’t make it in vegetables,” the company’s CEO Michael DeGiglio told the Big Bend Sentinel in a 2019 interview.

This month, the company announced plans to apply for a license to legally grow marijuana at its Marfa area facility under Texas’ limited Compassionate Use Program, which is overseen by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

At a recent meeting in Marfa, company representatives told Presidio County commissioners about their plan for the operation. If approved by DPS, it would involve renovating a one-acre greenhouse at the local facility to grow marijuana.

Village Farms representative Paul Furfaro told commissioners the company is not seeking to turn the entire greenhouse into a marijuana growing operation, though he acknowledged the company has struggled to remain competitive in the produce sector.

“It’s a really tough business, and it’s getting tougher,” Furfaro said.

Furfaro told commissioners the company has decided to sell one of its greenhouses in the nearby Permian Basin because the facility “is just not sustainable anymore.”

“We don’t want that to happen in Marfa, we don’t want that to happen in Fort Davis,” he said, referencing the company’s other greenhouse in the Big Bend area. “So this is a way to be able to protect jobs, hopefully create jobs, but within a very, very restrictive market right now.”

Texas DPS is currently accepting applications for new medical marijuana producers through April 28, though the department is not expected to review those applications until after the current state legislative session.

Under current state law, doctors can prescribe marijuana to certain patients with serious health conditions like epilepsy, cancer and PTSD, but lawmakers are considering a proposal to expand the list of eligible patients to include people with chronic pain and other conditions.

Susan Hays, an attorney for Village Farms and recent Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner, told Presidio County commissioners this month that despite the growing flexibility in the state’s Compassionate Use Program, medical marijuana is still relatively hard to come by for Texans who need it.

“Because they’ve only given out two licenses, they’re both in the Austin area,” she said. “So people in West Texas don’t have practical access to it.”

Hays told commissioners that if the company’s license was approved, Village Farms could also pursue selling medical marijuana in towns across West Texas and possibly beyond.

“Those regulations may change in the future, where we’re able to sell across the state,” she said. “That will help bring more dollars back into this community.”

At the company’s request, Presidio County commissioners voted to sign a letter of support for the medical marijuana application to DPS.

Speaking outside the county courthouse after this month’s meeting, Furfaro said Village Farms sees a “very long and bullish future” for the U.S. cannabis industry.

“Every state is legalizing or regulating in some way, shape or form,” he said. “So we do anticipate this will happen on a federal level at some point in time.”

The company views Texas as “an amazing place to be” if or when that happens, Furfaro said.

“We have the expertise here, we have the cultivation here, we have the support here,” he said. “We’d just like to be able to build that out over time, as regulation and legislation changes and evolves.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.